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Jane Roberts - The Commercial Appeal -
If teachers spend most evenings at home with a pile of student papers, Monday night was glam night, a time for heels, sequins and glittering smiles as Memphis City Schools teachers stepped up at The Cannon Center for the Performing Arts to receive awards from their students.
One hundred and five teachers made the finalist cut from 1,200 nominations; 21 received plaques with golden apples and $100 checks, complements of the Memphis Education Association, while fans on two levels of the performance hall clapped and cheered.
Meah King from East High took the top honors for high school English teachers and smiled and shook hands most of the way back to her seat.
"Teaching is not a profession, it's a ministry," she said. "My work is not in vain."
Joe Birch, WMC-TV Channel 5 news anchor, missed nary a beat in his repartee as master of ceremonies of the first My Favorite Educator Golden Apple Awards, revealing his own schoolday memories and at one point taking out his cellphone to snap shots for the newscast.
"I'm going to take some pictures and put some of this on the news," he said to roars. "It's about time educators got what they deserve.
"That's what I'm talking about," he said, as Barbara Cowan, science teacher at Cordova Middle, received her award and smiled for cameras, Birch's included.
MEA has presented the awards for 10 years in relative obscurity compared to Monday, when the union joined hands with the school district to light up the Cannon Center.
"We're taking it up a notch. This idea of student perceptions of their teachers is going to be an integral part of our teacher evaluations going forward," Supt. Kriner Cash told the crowd.
Starting this year, student observations in the city schools will count as 5 percent of a teacher's evaluation. They will be gathered through a survey developed at Harvard University to help students rate what teachers do that makes their students successful. Students will give their first semester impressions this month, followed by a second round in March.
The snippets from student nomination letters the crowd heard Monday were timeless tributes to teachers, including poignant words from student Jennifer Peoples about Sarah Kennedy-Harper, special education teacher at Northside High.
"Even though I am in special ed, Ms. Harper doesn't treat me like I am slow," she wrote. "She expects all of us to learn a lot. When I am hard on myself, she gives me hope."
Sherrish Holloman, coordinator of the MCS teacher support, recognition and retention office, took note of a shift in elected officials' attitudes toward teachers unions. "We want to show our teachers that we support them professionally and personally."
The legislature voted earlier this year to strip teachers of their collective bargaining rights. A new teacher evaluation format, made law in the same session, now ties teachers' job security to their students' test scores.
Golden Apple Award winners
Pre-K: LaMonica Wright, nominated by Jakia Terry, Grandview Heights
Kindergarten: Esther Shelby, nominated by Cortez Jones, Hickory Ridge
First Grade: Alice Rasberry, nominated by Aaliyah Mitchell, Hanley
Second Grade: Melissa Collins, nominated by Tyler Hailey, John P. Freeman
Third Grade: Kristi McIntosh, nominated by Teqoya Jackson, Coro Lake
Fourth Grade: Cassandra Jackson, nominated by Briana Shaw, Magnolia Elementary
Fifth Grade: Cassie Mebane, nominated by Jada Jeffries, Vollentine Elementary
Middle School English: Chekita Gross, nominated by Taquasha Rivers, Cummings Elementary
Middle School math: Kimberly Taylor, nominated by Andrea Hill, Colonial Middle
High School English: Meah King, nominated by Adrianne Tate, East High
High School math: Justin Bolden, nominated by Brittany Jackson, Kirby High
Science: Barbara Cowan, nominated by Emma Jakobi, Cordova Middle
Social studies: Paula Watkins, nominated by Lakyra Smith, Airways Middle
Special Education: Sarah Kennedy-Harper, nominated by Jennifer Peoples, Northside High
Physical education: Debra Carpenter, nominated by LaVincia Echols, Kate Bond Middle
Fine Arts: Diedria Pigues, nominated by Zionna Williams, Knight Road Elementary
Foreign Language: Marvin Simpson, nominated by Elizabeth Gonda, White Station Middle
Career & Technology: Mia Moore, nominated by Chasity Lawson, Trezevant CTC
Guidance Counselor: Terri Mills, nominated by Erica Crittenden, Knight Road Elementary
Librarian: Clara Ford, nominated by Katie Peck, Kirby High
Education Support Professional: Bobby Towns, nominated by Jalen Newson, Northwest Prep Academy